Josephine Baker: Roaring '20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

Sitting on a bar stool at the bar of Le Jockey, a classy nightclub in Montparnasse on the Left Bank of Paris, was Ernest Hemingway. African American musicians on stage were playing their saxophones, horns, and drums, while beautiful women danced along.

“One of those nights, I couldn’t take my eyes off a beautiful woman on the dance floor—tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, long, seductive legs: Very hot night but she was wearing a black fur coat,” Hemingway recounts in A.E. Hotchner’s memoir Hemingway in Love: His Own Story

“She was dancing with a big British army sergeant, but her eyes were on me as much as my eyes were on her. I got off my bar stool and cut in on the Brit who tried to shoulder me away but the woman left the Brit and slid over to me. The sergeant looked bullets at me. The woman and I introduced ourselves. Her name was Josephine Baker, an American, to my surprise. Said she was about to open at the Folies Bergère, that she’d just come from rehearsal.”

She told him the fur coat was because she had nothing else on underneath. The Brit followed them as they were leaving, exchanging words the entire way, and pulled Hemingway’s sleeve and slammed him against the wall. Hemingway dropped the burly Brit with his fist as the police whistles were sounding. Hemingway spent the night at Baker’s kitchen table, drinking champagne sent from an admirer. They talked all night, “mostly bullshit,” but also about love and their souls.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Josephine Baker often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with her pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar and sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. Screenshot via YouTube.

“Cruel vibes can offend the soul and send it on to a better place,” Baker told Hemingway. “You need some good stuff to happen in your life, Ernie, to rescue you with your soul.”

Baker was as mysterious as she was captivating, and when asked about her flamboyant persona, Hemingway recalled she was “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw … or ever will.”

The American-born performer moved to France from a poverty-stricken home in St. Louis during the Roaring ’20s. Blacks in the United States weren’t welcomed as they were in Europe. The early success of Black entertainers can be credited to Harlem Hellfighter James Reese Europe, who introduced the jazz scene that would rumble across the continent during World War I. 

Baker performed in the Harlem music-and-dance ensemble La Revue Nègre. She dressed in provocative outfits, including a skirt strung with bananas (and not much else), while on stage and gained a reputation for her comedic and silly style. Soon she became a star, entertaining open-minded white crowds under the stage name the “Creole Goddess.” 

When the Germans invaded Paris in 1940 in the early years of World War II, Baker fled among thousands of others. The 34-year-old was in an interracial marriage with a French-Jewish sugar broker named Jean Lion. She was also openly bisexual and had frequent affairs with women. Had she not fled, she could have been the target of Nazi sympathizers. 

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Josephine Baker was one of the first Black superstars. Current American icons have paid her homage: Beyoncé wore a banana skirt in her 2006 Fashion Rocks performance, and Rihanna memorably wore a sheer Baker-inspired dress in 2014 at the CFDA Fashion Awards. Screenshot via YouTube.

She poured out champagne from several bottles and replaced it with gasoline to endure a 300-mile journey to her country estate, Chateau des Milandes. Here she harbored refugees fleeing the Nazis and was later approached by Jacques Abtey, the head of French counterintelligence, to join the French resistance.

“France made me what I am,” she told him. “I will be grateful forever. The people of Paris have given me everything. […] I am ready, captain, to give them my life. You can use me as you wish.”

And he did. She procured visas at her chateau for French resistance fighters and used her celebrity status to attend diplomatic functions held at the Italian embassy. Axis bureaucrats, diplomats, and spies spoke about the war, and she was nearby listening in. She collected intelligence on German troop movements and gathered insight into enemy-controlled harbors and airfields. She’d write notes on her arms and legs with confidence she wouldn’t undergo a strip search. 

The Nazis paid her a visit, as they suspected she may have been involved in resistance activities. She charmed her way out of having them search her home, which was filled with hidden resistance fighters, but was spooked enough to contact Abtey to leave France. Gen. Charles de Gaulle instructed the pair to travel through neutral Lisbon, Portugal, to London. Between the two of them, they carried 50 classified documents, including Baker’s notes scribbled in invisible ink on her sheet music.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Josephine Baker wearing a French military uniform. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance, and became a Chevalier de Légion d’honneur, the highest order of merit for military and civil action. Screenshot courtesy of YouTube.

After the Allies liberated Paris, she returned to her beloved city wearing a French military uniform. De Gaulle awarded her the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance and named her a Chevalier de Légion d’honneur, the highest order of merit for military and civilian actions.

This war hero then became a vocal advocate against segregation and discrimination in the United States in the 1950s and ’60s. 

“You know, friends, that I do not lie to you when I tell you I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents,” she said in 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. “And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) named May 20 Josephine Baker Day. She also had a family of adopted children she called her “rainbow tribe” to show that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.”

Josephine Baker died on April 12, 1975, at age 68. She preached equality, lived with moxie, and inspired generations of not only Black Americans but all Americans to bring change where it was needed: “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Soviet Union abandoned its World War II POWs

As Russia’s government pulled out all the stops on May 9, 2018, to celebrate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany and to remember the estimated 25 million Soviets who died during the war, historian Konstantin Bogoslavsky was working to shed light on the fate of Soviet POWs “abandoned” by their own government.

The savagery of Hitler’s war on the Soviet Union is widely documented, but many details remain elusive about the plight of Red Army prisoners.


Their exact number will never be known for sure, but estimates of Soviet Red Army soldiers taken prisoner during World War II range from 4 million to 6 million. About two-thirds of those captured by the Germans — more than 3 million troops — had died by the time their comrades captured Berlin in May 1945.

The archives of the Soviet People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs were recently digitized, and Bogoslavsky has been studying the wartime correspondence between the Soviet government and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Geneva-based international organization that tried to aid prisoners, the wounded, and refugees during the war.

“Already on June 23, 1941, the Red Cross sent a telegram to [Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav] Molotov offering its assistance to the Soviet Union during the war,” Bogoslavsky told RFE/RL. “Molotov confirmed his interest.”

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav

In the first weeks of the conflict, Germany and the Soviet Union both confirmed they would adhere to international conventions on the treatment of prisoners. However, it quickly became clear that neither side intended to keep its commitment.

In the first six months of the war, as the Germans raced across the Soviet Union to the outskirts of Moscow, more than 3 million Red Army soldiers were taken prisoner, often as a result of encirclement as Soviet officials refused to allow them to retreat or failed even to issue orders.

According to the archival materials, Bogoslavsky said, the Axis powers offered to exchange lists of prisoners with the Soviets in December 1941. Molotov’s deputy, Andrei Vyshinsky, wrote to his boss that a list of German prisoners had been compiled and advised that it be released to prevent harm to the Soviet Union’s reputation.

“But Molotov wrote on the message, ‘…don’t send the lists (the Germans are violating legal and other norms),'” Bogoslavsky said. “After that, almost all the letters and telegrams received from the Red Cross…were marked by Molotov as ‘Do Not Respond.'”

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

The Soviet government adopted this policy as a result of a cold-blooded calculus.

“By the end of 1941, more than 3 million people had been taken prisoner, and one of the Soviet leadership’s goals was to control this avalanche,” Bogoslavsky said. “A Soviet soldier had to understand that if he was captured, he wouldn’t be getting any food parcels from the Red Cross and he wouldn’t be sending any postcards to his loved ones. He had to know that the only thing awaiting him there was inevitable death.”

One Soviet document issued under Stalin’s signature, the historian noted, asserted that “the panic-monger, the coward, and the deserter are worse than the enemy.”

In addition, the Soviet government refused to allow any Red Cross representatives into its own notorious prison camps, where they might stumble on secrets of Stalin’s prewar repressions.

“The distribution of food and medicine to prisoners was carried out by representatives of the Red Cross, and that would have meant allowing them access to camps in the Soviet Union,” Bogoslavsky said. “The Soviet leadership was categorically opposed to that. Despite numerous requests, Red Cross representatives were never given visas to travel to the Soviet Union.”

“Of course, the entire responsibility for the mass deaths of Soviet prisoners must fall on the leadership of the Third Reich,” he added. “But Stalin’s government, in my opinion, was guilty of not giving moral support or material assistance to its own soldiers, who were simply abandoned.”

In March 1943, Molotov wrote a letter to U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union William Standley, who had forwarded an offer from the Vatican to facilitate an exchange of information about Soviet prisoners being held by the Germans.

“I have the honor of reporting that at the present time this matter does not interest the Soviet government,” Molotov wrote. “Conveying to the government of the United States our gratitude for its attention to Soviet prisoners, I ask you to accept my assurances of my most profound respect for you, Mr. Ambassador.”

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Molotov’s letter to U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union William Standley

During the course of the war, the Soviet government also refused to cooperate with the governments of German allies Finland and Romania on the prisoners issue. Soviet prisoners in Finland did receive Red Cross packages that were organized by a charity in Switzerland and distributed in Finland on a unilateral basis.

In 1942, Romania offered to release 1,018 of the worst-off Soviet prisoners in exchange for a list of Romanians being held by the Soviet Union.

“The Soviet leadership simply ignored that offer,” Bogoslavsky said.

“The Soviet Union was the only country that refused to cooperate with the Red Cross and did not even allow Red Cross delegations onto its territory,” he added. “Germany did not work with the Red Cross in connection with Soviet prisoners, but it did cooperate concerning those of its Western enemies — the Americans, the British, and the French.”

The misfortunes of many Soviet POWs did not end when the guns fell silent.

“It is a myth that all those who returned from POW camps were sent to the gulag,” Bogoslavsky said. “The NKVD (Soviet secret police) set up special camps for checking and filtering returning prisoners. According to historian [Viktor] Zemskov, about 1.5 million former prisoners passed through the filtration process. Of them, about 245,000 were repressed.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

5 of the most legendary soldiers of United Kingdom’s Special Air Service

In the world of special operations, the UK’s Special Air Service (SAS) is as good as they come. They are the British government’s elite counterterrorism unit, specializing in rescuing hostages, covert reconnaissance and generally taking the fight to unsuspecting bad guys all over the world. 

Formed during World War II, they were the blueprint for the U.S. Army Delta Force, Israel’s Sayaret Matkal, and almost any other special operations force the world over. After World War II, the elite SAS served in nearly every UK military action around the world, from hunting down communist rebels in Malaya to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and from the Falklands to the Global War on Terror. 

In that time, the SAS has experienced its share of victories and setbacks, but its story only grows with each mission. With each mission there are always standout soldiers who overcome incredible odds in the face of the enemy – and become legends even among special operators. 

1. Lt. Col. David Stirling

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Stirling (Wikimedia Commons)

As an officer in the No. 8 Guards Commando, Stirling first saw action at the capture of Rhodes,  and the Battles of Crete and Litani River. It was while fighting these pitched battles that he realized a small team of special soldiers could be much more effective, doing extreme damage with minimal casualties. The story of how he pitched the idea of creating the Special Air Service is worthy of an article of its own, but by 1941, the SAS was operating in North Africa.

Using stripped-down Jeeps and a new kind of demolition bomb, Stirling and his new SAS were wreaking havoc on Axis airfields across North Africa. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel dubbed Stirling the “Phantom Major,” and was able to capture the British officer. After a series of escape attempts with mixed success, Stirling was finally captured for good and sent to Colditz Castle in Germany, where he spent the rest of World War II.

2. Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba

In 1972, the SAS were sent to Oman to train the Sultan’s soldiers to fight a communist insurgency from neighboring Yemen. Defending a small fortification near the port city of Mirbat were nine SAS troopers with small arms and a Browning machine gun. The SAS soon realized that 300 communist fighters were making their way toward the house, but they weren’t close enough for the British troopers’ small arms to be effective.

 Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba ran out of the house to a 25-pounder artillery gun some 200 meters away and began to fire it at the oncoming human wave. While operating the gun was a six-man job, Labalaba managed to fire off a round every minute by himself, as bullets whizzed by. After an hour of firing the gun, Labalaba was wounded and another trooper, Sekonaia Takavesi, came to his aid. Labalaba and Takavesi fought on for two and a half hours, until the gun was out of ammo. 

Labalaba and two others were killed in the defense of Mirbat, but they held their ground because of Sgt. Labalaba’s skill with artillery.

3. Lt. Col. Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Paddy Mayne (Wikimedia Commons)

Mayne was an early member of the Special Air Service, one of the UK’s most decorated soldiers of World War II and picked up where David Stirling left off. Initially the head of an anti-aircraft battery, the Irishman was transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles and then No. 11 Scottish Commando. There, he invaded Vichy-held Lebanon and Syria. His skills in combat saw him transferred to what was then called the “parachute unit,” but would soon be known as the Special Air Service. 

His first combat with the SAS came during night raids in North Africa, destroying aircraft, fuel supplies, and ammo dumps in 1941. He was soon placed in command of the SAS, fighting behind enemy lines in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and even into Germany. His exploits in the war earned him four Distinguished Service Orders, the French Legion d’Honneur on Croix de Guerre.

4. Lt. Jock Lewes

Jock Lewes is many things, but first and foremost, he’s the SAS trooper who discovered that explosives used by Stirling and his men in North Africa weren’t as effective as they needed to be. The bomb he developed used diesel oil and plastic explosives to make sure Axis planes and vehicles could never be used again. The Lewes Bomb, as it came to be called, was used throughout the war to devastating effect.

Lewes was one of the first men to volunteer for Stirling’s new SAS unit and was killed by enemy aircraft while raiding an Axis airfield in Libya in 1941.

5. Staff Sgt. John McAleese

Scotsman John McAleese is one of the UK’s most decorated soldiers of all time. He’s one of the rare SAS soldiers who saw fame while serving, as the world watched the UK’s response to terrorists taking over the Iranian Embassy in London. For six days, the British government lay siege to the embassy. On the sixth day, they killed a hostage and the SAS were called in. 

The world watched live as McAleese and his blue team followed the red team into the embassy by blowing their way into a first-floor window. In 17 minutes, the SAS killed all but one of the terrorists, losing only one hostage. McAleese also served in the Falklands War and earned medals fighting the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Confederate spy got away with treason

Throughout history women have had an invisible hand in shaping the course of history through intrigue and espionage. Largely due to being marginalized by laws and cultural restrictions, women at the time could not participate in combat outright. The confederacy employed a wide array of individuals as spies — and that’s the point. Spies should not look like spies and during the Civil War, Maria Isabella ‘Belle’ Boyd was infamous in her success to disrupt the advance of the Yankee Army by feigning weakness.

Belle was born in May 1844 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to an influential family of the south. According to her memoirs, her first taste of the war came to her doorstep when a drunken union soldier harassed her and her mother until she had had enough and shot him dead. After a formal investigation into her actions concluded that she acted in self defense she was acquitted. 

This is when she realized she could do things others could not and get away with it. She notoriously weaponized the discrimination against women and became a spy at the age of 17.

“She could act with more daring than a man ever could, as Union soldiers did not consider a teenage girl was capable of being such an effective spy.” – Highlight History

Against the lady-like customs of the day, she was a messenger for Generals Jackson and Pierre Beauregard. She had vested interest in aiding General Jackson because her forty-five year-old father enlisted under Jackson. 

She ran her father’s hotel and seduced union soldiers and officers and gathered information. When it was safe to do so, she would give messages to her slave Eliza Hopewell, who would carry them in a hollowed-out watch case. 

The most notable contribution to the war effort came when she was visiting relatives in Front Royal. She, supposedly, listened to through a keyhole on the Union War Council discussing that Major Banks’ had been ordered to advance on General Jackson at the battle of Winchester.

“Learning that Union Major General Nathaniel Banks’ forces had been ordered to march, she rode fifteen miles to inform Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson who was nearby in the Shenandoah Valley. She returned home under cover of darkness. Several weeks later, on May 23, when she realized Jackson was about to attack Front Royal, she ran onto the battlefield to provide the General with last minute information about the Union troop dispositions.” – battlefields.org

This information was used by General Jackson to recapture her hometown of Front Royal. Would anyone suspect that a bonnet wearing teenager riding away from the sounds of gun fire was in fact a rebel spy? Plausible.

In her memoirs she writes that it was a daring escape, filled with union soldiers firing at her and ripping holes in her skirt as she rushed towards her father’s General. However, historians agree that her memoirs are exaggerated but entertaining to read. Her memoirs also sold really well after the war.

By 1862 she was famous, and her likeness and activities were mentioned in the New York Tribune. She would boldly walk into Union Camps, gather information, and leave as a ‘courier’. By this point in her spy career she had been arrested six times, imprisoned three times, and exiled twice — and got away with it. The following year on August 29, 1863 she was, again, arrested for spying. The following year after that she was captured on the blockade runner, Greyhound, by the Union. Easily she was identified and arrested for the usual charges of spying.

In August 1865 she escaped to England and published her memoirs detailing her information gathering skills. Personally I’m impressed by the audacity that she refused to be tied down by social norms and risked life and limb to take on that role and thrive.

If anybody accused female spies of espionage during the war the standard response was:

“How dare you!? Accuse me of such things is beneath the conduct of an officer and a gentleman. I am a defenseless woman.” Belle superbly used her enemy’s sexism against them, committed treason, and got away with it scot-free.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Friendship in Death: The Nimitz Plot at Golden Gate National Cemetery

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the World War II Commander of the Pacific Fleet, delivered remarks at Golden Gate National Cemetery on the 10th Anniversary of V-J Day, August 14, 1955. The remains of many men who died under his command had been repatriated and rested before him. Nimitz took the loss of life made by his decisions personally and carried the burden with him throughout his life. He spoke directly to his fallen men on this occasion and promised them that the survivors of the war would honor their memory by maintaining military strength to deter future calamity.

Over the next decade, Admiral Nimitz decided that, in death, he wanted to join his men at Golden Gate with a standard military funeral and regulation headstone. He took steps to assure that the shipmates closest to him during World War II could join him as well.


Admiral Nimitz was a humble and no-frills type of man; still, his funerary and burial decisions surprised some. He was the third of four admirals promoted to the rank of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy during WWII. All were entitled to a state funeral and three accepted.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s family standing outside of Golden Gate National Cemetery’s chapel, February 24, 1966. Mrs. Nimitz is seated in front of her son and daughters. (U.S. Navy Photo 1115073, NARA II, College Park, Md.)

When the Kennedy administration approached Nimitz—the last of the surviving Fleet Admirals—about planning his own state funeral and burial in Arlington, Nimitz balked. He told his wife Catherine that “He did not love Washington, he loved it out here, and all of his men from the Pacific were out here.”

Instead, Nimitz had only one special request: that the five stars of his Fleet Admiral insignia be placed in the space reserved for an emblem of belief on his headstone. His biographer, E.B. Potter, speculated that Nimitz, a religious man outside of denominations, made the decision to show that “He had done his best in life.”

There were spaces for six graves in Nimitz’s designated burial plot at Golden Gate. When asked if he had preference for who went into the other four graves, Nimitz said, “I’d like to have Spruance and Lockwood.”

Admirals Raymond Spruance and Charles Lockwood were two of Nimitz’s closest friends during the war and after. Their competency as warfighters and leaders contributed greatly to victory in the Pacific. Spruance delivered key victories, such as Midway, the Philippine Sea, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Lockwood commanded the successful U.S. submarine operations in the Pacific.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

Admiral Chester Nimitz (CINCPAC) gives a dinner party in Hawaii for First Lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt on September 22, 1943. (L-R): Rear Admiral Charles Lockwood, Mrs. Roosevelt, Admiral Nimitz, Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance. (NH 58521, Naval History and Heritage Command, WNYD)

As a bonus, another close friend and architect of all major Pacific amphibious landings, Admiral Richmond Kelley Turner already occupied a grave very close to the Nimitz plot. When Nimitz posed the idea to Spruance, he “took to the thing like a duck to water,” as Mrs. Nimitz recalled. Lockwood agreed with the plan as well.

A friend in death

Nimitz died February 20, 1966, with his wife Catherine at his side. He was laid to rest on the cold and blustery afternoon of February 24 (his 81st birthday). Admiral Spruance, recovering from the flu, respectfully stood at attention in his uniform throughout. Mrs. Nimitz found some humor in the day when an uninvited sailor who had served in the Pacific Fleet arrived at the grave dressed in his best cowboy boots and hat. He refused to leave because “This was his commander, [and] he was going to be there come hell or high water.”

While this circumstance would likely have annoyed many, this type of admiration from those who served under him embodied the leadership style of Nimitz. Two nineteen-gun salutes, a 70-plane flyover, and the playing of “Taps” concluded the service.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

Funeral of Fleet Admiral Nimitz. Procession about to begin journey from the chapel to the gravesite at Golden Gate National Cemetery, February 24, 1966. (U.S. Navy Photo 1115072-B, NARA II, College Park, Md.)

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This Special Forces soldier gave his life to save his allies

Army Staff Sgt. Richard R. Arsenault was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross for valorous actions taken only two weeks apart in Vietnam.


The action that netted him the Distinguished Service Cross ended in his tragic death.

Arsenault was assigned to Advisory Team 43 supporting Republic of Vietnam forces opposing the North Vietnamese Army. On May 12, 1972, he accompanied a Vietnamese Regional Force unit in a combat operation in the Hua Nghia Province. Arsenault not only went on the mission, but he volunteered to act as the radio operator.

 

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
A U.S. Army Ranger and military advisor trains Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

The radio operator is a high-value target for an enemy force. The antennas clearly point out who is carrying the system, and taking down a radio and its operator cuts the force off from certain battlefield tools like artillery and close air support.

Despite the risks, Arsenault carried the system into battle and maneuvered near the front under heavy concentrations of mortar, machine gun, small arms, and rocket fire, according to his Silver Star citation. Arsenault moved up with the senior American advisor to Vietnamese forces in the district and used his M16 to suppress enemy fire.

As the fight ground on, it become a closer and tighter affair until the two forces were within 40 yards of one another, throwing grenades and using pistols to try to gain the upper hand. When eight NVA soldiers tried to flank Arsenault’s element at close range, he took them out with hand grenades and his rifle.

 

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Marines with Company G, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, direct a concentration of fire at the enemy during Operation Allen Brook, 8 May 1968. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps).

 

The friendly Vietnamese forces were victorious, and Arsenault continued to work with them as a military advisor.

Exactly two weeks later, Arsenault and Army Capt. Ed Schwabe were accompanying 12th Regional Force Group soldiers as they searched out North Vietnamese soldiers in the province. The unit met light resistance from an enemy bunker, according to an excerpt from “Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages,” by Stuart Harrington.

Just a little later, Schwabe and Arsenault’s column was struck by a company-sized enemy ambush. Arsenault spotted the rocket being fired and tackled Schwabe to the ground while alerting others to the threat just before the rocket hit.

 

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Staff Sgt. Richard R. Arsenault gave his life to safe others in Vietnam in 1972. (Photo: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Wall of Faces. Submitted by Shirley Arsenault.)

 

The friendly forces were able to dart to limited cover in a nearby graveyard, saving the lives of the 12th Group command element and allowing them to devise a response to the ambush.

Unfortunately, while Arsenault had saved Schwabe’s life, Arsenault was killed by the first rocket and Schwabe was wounded and knocked unconscious.

Schwabe was pulled to safety by his interpreter and Arsenault was later posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions on May 12 and the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on May 26.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time pancakes helped fight the Japanese in WWII

America’s clandestine operators developed some pretty diabolical weapons to help inflict death and destruction behind enemy lines in World War II. And in the fight against the Japanese occupation of China, the plans got downright dastardly.


In 1942, the Office of Strategic Services began working with Ukraine-born George Kistiakowsky who was a physical chemistry professor at Harvard University and developed an innovated explosive powder designed specifically for guerrilla warfare.

Related: WW2 vet dies while visiting country from which he fought 71 years earlier

Kistiakowsky secretly created “HMX” powder, or “nitroamine high-explosive” that could be mixed in with regular baking flour and make various inconspicuous-looking baked goods.

Kistiakowsky managed to perfectly combine the HMX compound with a popular pancake mix and package the new weapon into ordinary flour bags that could be smuggled through the numerous Japanese checkpoints and delivered right into the Chinese fighters’ hands.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Ah, the power of good old fashioned pancakes.

The explosive looked no different than regular pancake mix and if a suspicious Japanese soldier forced the smuggle to whip up a batch and eat them, there would be no ill effects except for a bit of a stomach ache.

Once the weaponized flour was in the hands of the Chinese allied fighters, muffins were baked from the Aunt Jemima pancake mix and a blasting cap was added to complete the destructive war device.

It’s reported that approximately 15 tons of pancake mix was imported and was never detected by Japanese forces.

Also Read: The USS England was a Japanese sub’s worst nightmare during World War II

Articles

The last soldier killed in WWI died one minute before the war ended

Sergeant Henry Gunther was actually a private the day he charged a German machine gun nest for the last time in World War I. He had just been busted down in rank for criticizing the war in a letter he wrote home, and he wasn’t happy about it.


Luckily for millions of other soldiers and civilians in Europe, everyone knew the Armistice would come into effect on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

This is why so many question why Sgt. Gunter charged a German machine gun nest at 10:59 that same day.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
A memorial to Gunther built on Nov. 11, 2010 at his gravesite in Baltimore.

Gunther and his unit came across a German position north of Verdun on Nov. 11, 1918. As they took cover from the machine guns, they received word that the war would be over in less than an hour.

That’s when Sgt. Gunther charged the position with a fixed bayonet.

The Germans fired a number of warning shots and tried to yell at Gunther – in English – to stop.

But Gunter wasn’t the only troop to die in that last hour of World War I. Some 3,000 men died in that short time. Some historians even speculate that Gunther was ordered to charge the machine guns.

Even though so many others died around the same time, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force General John J. Pershing declared that Gunther would be known as the last man killed in action in the war.

Sergeant Henry Gunther was engaged before the war started and just secured a job as a bookkeeper in the Baltimore area before he was drafted in 1917.

After his death was recorded at 10:59, his fellow troops moved his body and buried him near where his company was posted. His remains were moved to the United States in 1923.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
A man in WWI-era French uniform stands beside a memorial stone at the spot where Henry Gunther fell on Nov. 11, 1918. The stone was unveiled by the French government as part of a 90th anniversary event in 2008. (Photo by American War Memorials Overseas)

On Veteran’s Day 2008, a memorial was constructed on the site where he was killed in Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, France.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the United States weaponized the weather in Vietnam

There’s not a lot the United States won’t do to win a war, and whether or not you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing isn’t relevant. Assassinating enemy generals, overthrowing governments, or bombing neighboring countries are all fair game – at least they were in Vietnam. The U.S. military didn’t stop there. One of the most extreme examples of manipulating the battlefield also came about in the Vietnam War, when the U.S. military took direct control of the weather in order to win the war. 

It was called Operation Popeye, and like many top secret operations in the Vietnam War, it was eventually leaked to American newspapers. 

Popeye was a five-year program designed to seed the clouds and extend the monsoon season in Vietnam. The heavy rain season was already six months long, drenching the country in May through October. In 1966, the Johnson administration noticed that Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army movements were hampered during heavy rains and prolonging the monsoons could hamper them further.

Communist supply lines became almost useless in the country’s monsoons, turning roads to rivers of mud, jamming up river traffic, and making some parts of the country completely useless for travel, travel which included that of ground forces, trucks, and supplies. 

In order to make it rain, the United States used a method called cloud seeding, using chemical agents to increase cloud condensation to the point of creating precipitation in the form of rain or snow, depending on the temperature. In 1967, the Air Force used two agents to seed clouds, silver or lead iodide in the form of smoke in the air or from the ground. 

Today, cloud seeding is nothing new and is commonly used in more planes than you might think, from farmers’ fields to ski resorts. But the use of seeding clouds as a means of gaining the upper hand in a war had never been done until Operation Popeye. 

On top of restricting enemy movement on the ground, creating clouds and precipitation also had the added benefit of suppressing anti-aircraft missile batteries. Still, when the Air Force briefed the U.S. Senate about Operation Popeye, Senators were not happy about it. The irony of being upset about falling rain as opposed to falling bombs was probably lost on them. 

The New York Times first reported on the operation in 1972, but even then, official anonymous sources in the Pentagon had doubts about its actual effectiveness. They did concede that cloud seeding was able to halt communications and logistics among the communists, but it could not create massive floods or mudslides that would do major damage to the enemy. 

What wasn’t known then and still isn’t known decades later, is what long term ecological effects cloud seeding has on an area. Since the United States was spraying down half the country with Agent Orange anyway, it probably wasn’t a top concern. 

Soon after American legislators discovered the program, they quickly moved to band the practice and sent feelers out to the international community about banning weather modification in warfare. The Soviet Union agreed to it and in 1978 a United Nations resolution went into effect. 

The Environmental Modification Convention states that no military or hostile force can use any action that causes “earthquakes, tsunamis; an upset in the ecological balance of a region; changes in weather patterns (clouds, precipitation, cyclones of various types and tornadic storms); changes in climate patterns; changes in ocean currents; changes in the state of the ozone layer; and changes in the state of the ionosphere.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Army Air Corps pilot stole a Nazi plane to escape from a POW camp

Jimmy Doolittle – the man who bombed Tokyo just 5 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – called Bob Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived.” Hoover had only been flying for five years by the time World War II broke out.


Hoover was captured by the Nazis after being shot down on his 59th mission over Europe.

The ace wasn’t about to spend the war in a prison camp, though. After 16 months as a POW, he was determined to get out and get back to the action. He staged a fight between fellow prisoners, jumped over the Stalag’s barb wire fence, and stole an unguarded Focke-Wulf 190 from the nearby airfield. He then flew it to newly-liberated Holland.

After the war, Hoover had an illustrious aviation career. He became a test pilot and Air Force legend, even backing up Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 in 1947.

A “pilot’s pilot,” Hoover continued to fly in air shows until 2000.

Sadly, Hoover died on October 25, 2016, but was fondly remembered by his admirers and friends in the aviation community, including Buzz Aldrin, who tweeted:

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The GOER Truck was a multipurpose vehicle ahead of its time

Today, the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, or HEMTT, is one of the military’s most important but unheralded vehicles. This eight-wheeled behemoth has been around since 1982, but its highly-capable predecessor saw action well before the HEMTT hit production lines.

That predecessor was the GOER family of vehicles. GOER is short for Go-ability with Overall Economy and Reliability. These four-wheeled vehicles had an articulating front section (which allowed it to make sharper turns) and amphibious capabilities (it used its wheels to propel through water), making it extremely versatile. These vehicles could operate in front-wheel drive while on the road, but could shift to four-wheel drive for the paths less traveled.


Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

Two of the unique features of the M520 Goer are on display: Its amphibious capacilbity, and its articulated structure.

(US Army)

The GOER was first developed in the early 1960s and saw some field tests in Germany and Vietnam. Four versions of this vehicle emerged: The baseline M520, an eight-ton truck; the M533, a wrecker (really, a big tow truck); the M559, a fuel tanker; and the M877, an eight-ton truck with a crane.

After yielding outstanding test results in Vietnam in 1971, the Army placed a production order with Caterpillar to create 1,300 trucks — a mix of the four variants mentioned above. But its run would prove short. By 1976, a number of the vehicle’s shortcomings came to light. One of the most notable was the lack of suspension, which made the ride very difficult. The GOER was also just too big, and there were safety issues with the way the front part of the trucks oscillated.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

The GOER family of vehicles also included a wrecker.

(US Army)

To address these problems but maintain the capabilities of this versatile truck, the DOD sought a replacement. Thus, the HEMTT family of vehicles emerged. Most of the GOERs never saw the civilian market, but were instead scrapped.

See this vehicle be put through its paces in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZZqx0iptnM

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why ancient German women yelled at male warriors in combat

At the 58 BC Battle of Vosges, Julius Caesar was surrounded. He had to force the Germanic army under Ariovistus into combat because the German was content to starve the Romans out. Cut off from supplies, Caesar’s legions may not last long enough to attack later. So, outnumbered and surrounded, Caesar struck.

He marched his entire force toward the weakest part of the Germanic army: its camp. When the legions arrived, the Germanic women were in the army’s wagon train, shouting, screaming, and wailing… at the Germanic men.


Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
Julius Caesar meets Ariovistus before the Battle of Vosges.

The Gallic Wars were an important moment in the history of Rome. It saw Julius Caesar’s rise in power and prestige as well as an important military and territorial expansion of the Roman Republic. But to the Romans’ well-organized and disciplined fighting force, the wailing Germanic women must have been an altogether strange experience.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

Germanic women were forced to defend the wagon trains after many battles against the Romans.

If a tribe was caught up in a fight while migrating or moving for any reason, women would not be left behind. Germanic women would yell at their fighting men, sometimes with their children on hand to witness the fighting. The women encouraged their children to yell and, with bare breasts, shouted reminders at the men that they must be victorious in combat or their families would be captured and enslaved… or worse, slaughtered wholesale.

Their shouts encouraged their men to fight harder, as women were considered holy spirits. Letting them fall into enemy hands was the ultimate failure.

The Roman Senator and historian Tacitus wrote in his work, Germania:

A specially powerful incitement to valor is that the squadrons and divisions are not made up at random by the mustering of chance-comers, but are each composed of men of one family or clan. Close by them, too, are their nearest and dearest, so that they can hear the shrieks of their women-folk and the wailing of their children. These are the witnesses whom each man reverences most highly, whose praise he most desires. It is to their mothers and wives that they go to have their wounds treated, and the women are not afraid to count and compare the gashes. They also carry supplies of food to the combatants and encourage them.

It stands on record that armies already wavering and on the point of collapse have been rallied by the women, pleading heroically with their men, thrusting forward their bared bosoms, and making them realize the imminent prospect of enslavement — a fate which the Germans fear more desperately for their women than for themselves. Indeed, you can secure a surer hold on these nations if you compel them to include among a consignment of hostages some girls of noble family. More than this, they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and a gift of prophecy; and so they do not scorn to ask their advice, or lightly disregard their replies.The women were more than just morale builders, though. They provided aid and comfort to their men after the battle was over, of course. And they would bring supplies and food to their male warriors in the middle of the fight.

If the battle didn’t go well, however, Germanic women could take on an entirely new role. They might kill any male members of the tribe who attempted retreat. They could even kill their children and then commit suicide rather than submit to enslavement by another tribe or army.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist

Women were captured en masse at the Battle of Aquaq Sextiae.

Vosges wasn’t the first time the Roman Republic encountered this phenomenon. At the 102 BC Battle of Aquae Sextiae a Roman army that was outnumbered by Germans 3-to-1 emerged victorious, according to the Roman historian Plutarch. He notes that 300 of the women captured that day killed themselves and their children rather than be taken back to Rome.

For the Germans at the Battle of Vosges, the situation wasn’t as desperate. They were all well-rested and their march from the Rhine River didn’t take a heavy toll on their strength. But the Romans were formidable and, thanks to a sudden moment of quick thinking by one of Caesar’s cavalry officers, they were able to drive the Germans back across the Rhine. When Caesar returned from Rome after the conquest of Gaul, he came back with a million slaves.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This rifle was Eugene Stoner’s replacement for the M16

The M4/M16 family of rifles has been in service with the U.S. military and many of its allies since 1964. Since then, many programs have attempted to replace the rifle, the most recent being the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon program. However, the past few decades have seen a number of militaries and agencies adopt rifles that use elements of a later rifle from the mind of Eugene Stoner.

While working for the ArmaLite/Fairchild Aircraft Company, Stoner designed a battle rifle chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO to replace the U.S. military’s M1 Garand service rifle. However, Stoner’s AR-10 tested poorly during the Springfield Armory trials and was passed on by the U.S. Although the AR-10 was purchased by other countries like West Germany, Italy, and Sudan, Stoner and ArmaLite pursued a U.S. government contract.

When the Army requested a rifle with a smaller caliber to replace the M14, Stoner got to work. He scaled down the AR-10 to make the AR-15 and chambered it in .223 Remington per the Army’s request. The new rifle allowed soldiers to carry three times the ammunition compared to the M14 and was tested to be three times as reliable. However, Army Chief of Staff General Maxwell Taylor vetoed Eugene Stoner’s design to retain the M14.

In 1959, finding little success with their AR-10 and AR-15 and facing financial difficulties, ArmaLite sold the weapon design rights to Colt. With a few redesigns to make the rifles more user-friendly and easier to mass produce, Colt managed to sell their new Colt ArmaLite AR-15 Model 01 to the U.S. military in 1960. The new rifle, first adopted by the Air Force and Army Special Forces before it became standard issue, was designated Rifle, Caliber 5.56 mm, M16 and the rest is history.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
An ArmaLite AR-15 with a pre-Colt charging handle under the carrying handle (Springfield Armory National Historic Site Archives)

ArmaLite lost out on the profits of Stoner’s AR-15 design. Moreover, they had sold off his direct-impingement operating system. This forced the company to use the more conventional short-stroke gas piston operating system in the 7.62x51mm chambered AR-16. The rifle, Stoner’s last design for ArmaLite, was made of stamped sheet metal and targeted smaller countries that didn’t have the industrial capacity to produce the more elaborate forged aluminum AR-10 or AR-15.

Following Eugene Stoner’s departure in 1961, ArmaLite assigned chief designer Arthur Miller to continue Stoner’s work on the AR-16. Miller redesigned the rifle for the .223 Remington cartridge and created the AR-18. With its gas piston system, the AR-18 was more reliable than the direct-impingement AR-15. The new rifle was accurate up to 500 yards and its simple construction made it cheap to manufacture. However, this came at the cost of a rough appearance compared to the sleek lines of the AR-15 and the rifle garnered few sales. Small numbers were sold to the militaries and police of countries like Botswana, Haiti, and Malaysia. A civilian version, the AR-180, was produced but also found little success.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
The AR-18 became a favorite of the IRA (Public Domain)

Although the AR-16 and AR-18 did not have the commercial success of the AR-10 and AR-15, their designs did inspire many rifles which were used concurrently with the M4/M16. The British SA80, Singaporean SAR-80, Belgian FN F2000, Japanese Howa Type 89, and German H&K G36 were all inspired to some degree by the dual captured recoil spring of the AR-16 and AR-18.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
The G36 recoil assembly is very similar to the AR-18 (Bundeswehr)

The new SIG MCX from Sig Sauer is a 21st century weapon system that is also heavily inspired by the AR-18. Thanks to the AR-18-style recoil system, the MCX is extremely modular and can be configured to suit a wide range of mission requirements. For this reason, it is currently used by special police units in Germany and the UK as well as military special forces like the Danish Frogman Corps and USSOCOM.

Although Stoner’s AR-16 design and its AR-18 derivative were not nearly as successful as his previous AR-10 and AR-15 designs, they influenced many service rifles throughout the 20th century and continue to influence firearm design today.

Josephine Baker: Roaring ’20s symbol of the jazz age, WWII spy, civil rights activist
The SIG MCX takes the best of the AR-15 and AR-18 designs (CTSFO)
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